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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for Biggest Festivals in Sri Lanka - Extravagant Displays of Culture & Devotion
Joanna James Joanna James
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Biggest Festivals in Sri Lanka - Extravagant Displays of Culture & Devotion

In the island nation of Sri Lanka, festivals are extravagant affairs where the locals come together to celebrate with much pomp and joy. Here are some of the biggest festivals in Sri Lanka.


Sinhala & Tamil New Year

Many Sri Lankans believe that the movements of the cosmos play an important role in their lives from picking out a life partner to figuring out what's in for the future and when a new year starts. The Sinhala and Tamil New Year occur when the sun moves from the house of Pisces to the house of Aries. This year the New Year's Eve and New Year Day fell on the 13th and 14th of April but the preparations and the festivities last the whole month long. Locals prepare a wide variety of sweet meats that are to be eaten at a specific time on New Year's Day and shared with neighbours and relatives during visits. New Year Festivals are amazing events that are not to be missed as games are just one of many things to do. In Galle, Sri Lanka; one of the most popular resort towns, many luxury hotels organize New Year festivals so that their guests too can join in the fun. So before you book a hotel, check if they do organize these as it will be a wonderful opportunity to witness the country's culture.



A majority of Sri Lanka's population are Buddhists and because of this, many of its biggest festivals are based on Buddhism. The most important of these is Vesak, which marks the birth, enlightenment, and Nibbana of the Gautama Buddha. This Buddhist festival falls every year on the full moon poya day of May and it's considered to be a national holiday. A very important thing to note is that during Vesak and all other full moon poya days, the sale of liquor and meat is banned.

During Vesak, there are many celebrations but the most important aspect for Buddhist is to spend the day in charitable activities such as meditating and almsgiving. In regard to the latter, there are many dansal or almsgiving stalls spread around the country offering free food to all! You can also find spectacular pandols depicting various parts of the Buddha's life or Buddhist legends. The best places to see pandols are at Vesak Kalapa like the Gangaramaya Vesak Kalapaya in Colombo.


Kataragama Festival

Katharagama is a pilgrimage town in Sri Lanka's down south that is held sacred by Buddhists, Hindus and the indigenous Vedda people. During the months of July and August, massive crowds of devotees flock towards town for the magnificent Kataragama Festival. This festival is so great that some of the devotees journey on an arduous foot pilgrimage that begins from as far as the North and goes through the dense jungles. You don't have to worry about all of this as most of the five-star hotels in the area like the Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort arrange tours to the site. Held on the 17th of July this year, the Kataragama Festival features a most amazing parade which includes a large number of dance performances and religious rituals.


Esala Maha Perahera

Also held during the months of July and August, the Esala Maha Perahera is a grand festival taking place at the majestic Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. This temple is thus named because it houses the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. In the Esala Maha Perahera, which lasts from the 29th of July to the 8th of August this year; this tooth relic is taken out in its golden casket and paraded around the city on top of a great tusker. The procession includes a wide number of cultural displays like Kandyan dancers, fire breathers, drummers, whip-dances, stilt walkers, to name a few. The best part of the parade is that it includes about a hundred or so elephants lavishly decorated in shining robes and fairy lights, out of which the tusker carrying the tooth relic stands out in veneration.


Independence Day

Every year on the 4th of February Sri Lanka celebrates the victory of gaining independence from the British in 1948. The entire country carries out festivities in forms of flag-hoisting ceremonies, parades, performances and dances. The best of these is the one hosted by the president at a special location. This year the Independence Day celebrations took place at the Galle Face Green in Colombo and featured grand displays by the armed forces of Sri Lanka.